Thursday, March 27, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Don Jon (2013) ***½

R, 90 min.
Director/Writer: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Glenne Headly, Brie Larson, Rob Brown, Jeremy Luke

Here’s what I like the most about Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut film “Don Jon”—intelligence isn’t an issue. JGL plays someone some might refer to as a “guido.” The stereotype of such a person lacking intelligence is the easy way to go in a role like this, but JGL also wrote and directed the role and, while he has the mannerisms and accent of a Jersey Shore type of character, JGL seems to play him with the same intelligence level as JGL. Which is to say, he doesn’t really play his intelligence level at all. This is a refreshing choice for an actor to make.

The same can be said for the rest of the characters in this surprisingly charming movie. Jon and his friends are clubbers, a lifestyle I personally have no connection to and never understood. They cruise the clubs every Saturday evening and rate “chicks” on a scale of 1 to 10, however instead of 10, they use the term “dime.” I like to see details like that in a movie as well. A dime is a near impossible thing. You don’t see a dime every Saturday night. In fact, a dime is almost mythological in their world. No matter how the evening turns out for Jon, no matter where on the scale the woman he ends up with that night falls, he always makes it to church the next morning to confess all his sins, including his addiction to porn.

I suspect Jon’s addiction to porn and masturbation, might have been the initial impetus for the movie. Not that JGL has an addition to porn, but some of Jon’s insights about what fuels his addiction are awfully honest. It’s a frank look into the male mindset on a subject that is rarely covered in a romantic comedy. But, porn will confuse the issues later in the film just as it often does in life.

First, one Saturday evening the crew sees a genuine dime and Jon makes it his mission to have her, even if it means going for “the long score.” Such a decision changes his life forever and he ends up evolving through the process, even falling in love with her. Scarlett Johansson plays the dime, again with the Jersey Shore accent but without the stereotyping. These are two beautiful intelligent people functioning in their unique environments in pretty much the same way we all behave in our own cultural environments. Seeing their treatment as normal people is kind of like seeing a foreign film and being surprised to discover that the French or Russians behave pretty much the same way as Americans do in movies.

Anyway, I won’t spoil where the relationship goes or just how Julianne Moore impacts Jon’s life playing an emotional basket case housewife he meets at night school. It’s an original story, therefore more fun to discover for yourself. I will say that Tony Danza and Glenne Headly are brilliant as Jon’s somewhat more stereotypical Catholic parents here. And pay close attention to Brie Larson as Jon’s perpetually texting sister. Perhaps those plugged in kids aren’t so out of touch as they appear. 

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